Following on from our EFL Cup game against West Ham at the London Stadium, Amanda Jacks, Caseworker at the Football Supporters Federation facilitated a meeting between parties involved with game management; stadium operators LS185, Met Police Football Unit and British Transport Police plus representatives from the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust and West Ham supporter organisations.
The meeting took place on 9 November 2016 and with the agreement of all present, the following notes have been drawn up by Amanda and address many of the issues and concerns raised by our supporters who attended the game.
We would like to thank Amanda for her involvement and work in getting all parties together, and we look forward to a safer and more enjoyable experience when we return for our Premier League game in March 2017 (assuming we aren’t drawn there in the FA Cup beforehand).
We would also like to thank the many Chelsea supporters who sent us reports of their experiences at the London Stadium on 26 October 2016. Significantly, the reports were consistent in their accounts of the evening’s events and were used to form the basis of our complaints to the relevant authorities.
Amanda Jack’s notes:
“Following the recent West Ham Utd FC v Chelsea FC EFL Cup Game, I asked the Met Police if they would facilitate a meeting to discuss the fixture. They agreed to this and together with the interim Chair of the newly reformed WHU Independent Supporter Association, two Board members of the Chelsea Supporters Trust, a representative of the WHU fansite Claret & Hugh and an individual WHU supporter invited by the clubs dedicated football officer, we all met on Wednesday, 9 November the earliest day after the game all parties were available. Also in attendance were the Heads of Safety & Security and Commercial from LS185 the London Stadium operators, the clubs (very new) Supporter Services Manager and a Sergeant from BTPs Football Unit.
After introductions, I opened the meeting by stating the obvious; that all supporter representatives in no way condoned the behaviour of those whose actions were well publicised and that we were all there to raise genuine concerns raised by many of our members. The common themes in communications from both home and away supporters included policing and stewarding and whether or not it could have been more effective in reducing anti-social behaviour and possible criminality. The concerns were balanced by a recognition that individuals must take responsibility for their own behaviour but equally the legitimate question was asked – could more effective policing and stewarding and overall match day operation reduced the likelihood of disorder and anti social behaviour. A candid discussion by all parties followed.
Broadly speaking the Met Police were happy with their operation but acknowledged, as did LS185 that the stadium and the vast surrounding areas present unique challenges. The design of the London Stadium does not afford natural segregation meaning there is freedom of movement inside that is relatively unusual. Unfortunately, while the vast majority of fans stayed in their designated seats a small number took advantage of the freedom and came together for no other reason than to take advantage of closer proximity to the away fans.
Supporters around the table said that they’d observed behaviour in the first half of the game (goading, gestures etc) and questioned why those responsible weren’t spoken to or even ejected at half time which is more or less common practice elsewhere. Many of those who’d contacted their respective fans reps had said they’d also witnessed stewards not taking swift action to deal with ASB. There was a admission from LS185 that in some instances the stewarding was not as proactive as it could have been and this is being addressed. Fans could expect to see more stewards in the future although it was suggested it wasn’t the number of stewards that mattered, it was their quality and competence that was important. This wasn’t disagreed with by LS185 but the reality is there isn’t a limitless pool of stewards to recruit from.
LS185 said it should also be taken into account that they have a duty of care towards stewards and they will not send stewards in to remove supporters whilst the game was ongoing to prevent them (stewards) becoming a target and consideration also needs to be given as to whether or not intervention could cause an escalation of behaviour.
Externally, numerous supporters raised concerns as to the lack of sufficient signage a lighting. While this was acknowledged as being an issue, the reality is given the land around the stadium straddles three different Boroughs and with many organisations (such as Thames Water) having lawful access and rights over the land, identifying one party responsible practically and financially for the provisions isn’t easy. This is frustrating to say the least and I committed to write to the Mayor of London to ask him if he can assist in cutting through “red tape” and work towards ensuring facilities that assist towards health, safety and security are provided.
One specific issue raised by the Chelsea Supporters Trust was to ask about a number of their supporters who had been escorted from Highbury & Islington to Hackney Wick station and thereafter the stadium by the police. Some had been issued with dispersal notices whereas others had been allowed access into the stadium but not in time for the first half of the game.
The Met went into some detail about this aspect of their operation and explained that the group were all known to them, that they were ‘risk’ supporters and the intention was to ensure they did not cause disorder before, during or after the game. CST explained that while this may well have been the case, within the group were fans caught up in this operation who had no intentions of doing anything other than supporting their team and were targeted unfairly.
With regard to the holdbacks that fans from both sides were subjected to pre and post match, these were imposed by the police as part of the ‘risk’ group/fan management and it was acknowledged by the police that their communication (with loudhailers, perhaps) to those innocent fans caught up could have been better and that they resolved to improve this for future such incidents, where appropriate.
The Met acknowledged that sometimes innocent fans may well be inadvertently caught up in such escorts and were sorry if that was the case on this occasion. However, they explained that the officers managing the escort are able to exercise discretion and will always make a case by case decision if fans ask them if they can make their own way free from an escort. Equally, the police will proactively pick fans out of the escort if they’re not known to them – for example pensioners or those with young children with them – and let them leave of their own accord.
The meeting drew to a close after a discussion lasting over two hours. All questions and points raised by supporter representatives were addressed with total transparency and there was no shying away from difficult subjects. Ultimately, the stadium operators have to work with the stadium as it stands and likewise the police have a vast area to manage externally. Each game presents different challenges and while there may have been healthy debate on some aspects and some questions raised more issues than answers, we were all broadly reassured that while solutions may not be immediately found, both LS185 and the Met are in no doubt as to fans legitimate concerns and are working hard to address those, so as far as is reasonably possible the ‘match day experience’ for all is a positive and safe one.”